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Nailing down another deal with its Tumor-Activated Prodrug (TAP) technology, ImmunoGen Inc. is getting $1 million up front and as much as $42 million in milestone payments from Biogen Idec Inc., which is researching antibodies to an undisclosed tumor-cell target.

ImmunoGen's stock (NASDAQ:IMGN) closed Wednesday at $5.60, up 27 cents. Biogen Idec's shares (NASDAQ:BIIB) ended the day at $62.31, up 43 cents.

"There are a lot of interesting antibody targets for cancer out there, and there's a lot of intellectual property covering those targets," said Mitchel Sayare, chairman and CEO of San Diego-based ImmunoGen. "Many of them we can't get our hands on, because they're owned by other companies."

ImmunoGen's business model allows for a "piece of the action" by way of lending the TAP technology to partners' efforts. "We don't enjoy the big gross margins [but] nor are we charged the big development costs," Sayare said.

Biogen Idec gets exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialize cancer therapeutics that comprise an antibody it develops and a maytansinoid cell-killing agent developed by ImmunoGen, which has designed such agents specifically for antibody-directed delivery to cancer cells.

Biogen Idec is paying for research, development, manufacturing and marketing of products resulting from the license. ImmunoGen also gets paid for product development research on Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen Idec's behalf, as well as for making preclinical and initial clinical materials.

"It's a single-target arrangement and some of our other deals are for multiple targets," Sayare noted. "In terms of up-front cash, it's probably in the middle. In terms of milestones, it's right up there."

ImmunoGen has formed partnerships with Aventis SA, of Lyon, France (now part of the Sanofi-Aventis Group); Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, of Ingelheim, Germany; Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.; Genentech Inc., of South San Francisco; and Abgenix Inc., of Fremont, Calif.

With Aventis, ImmunoGen is jointly developing antibody-based cancer products in a $62 million deal, including huMY-9-6-DM1 for acute myeloid leukemia, an IGF-1 receptor-directed naked antibody for solid tumors and a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma product developed from the TAP technology.

The Boehringer deal uses TAP with antibodies targeting CD44, an antigen found on squamous epithelial cells involved in head and neck, lung and breast cancers.

"We're not quite sure where [Boehringer] is with the CD44 product," Sayare said. "They're using copious amounts of material. We know that because we manufacture it for them."

Millennium's work is focused on MLN2704, which is making "outstanding progress," he said. "They're showing pretty good data." At the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in June, Millennium reported that Phase I data of the drug in patients with progressive metastatic hormone-refractory prostate cancer showing it was well tolerated and produced antitumor activity.

Furthest along in its own pipeline, ImmunoGen has huN901-DM1 for small-cell lung cancer in a Phase I/II trial. "Early in the calendar year, we'll broaden that into multiple myeloma, presumably Velcade failures," Sayare said. Velcade (bortezomib) is Millennium's drug for multiple myeloma, approved in May 2003.

There's also the cancer drug cantuzumab mertansine, the subject of a terminated deal with London-based GlaxoSmithKline plc.

"It went through Phase I, three different studies," Sayare told BioWorld Today. "We'll be putting that product into the clinic next year, as well," in pancreatic and gastric indications.

"Between Aventis and the five other out-licensees we have, probably more is done on behalf of partners than on behalf of ourselves," he said. "We don't burn a lot of cash." As of June 30, the company had spent $5 million, which is "not bad" for a company with 150 people and $100 million in the bank, Sayare said.

"Because so many people are out there using this tech platform, there's a lot of data that are being generated," helping others understand the value of TAP, he said.

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